We're just back from the annual gear fest that is the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen. Among the thousands of products on show from most of the world's leading outdoor brands, there were a few in particular that caught our eye. From an eagerly anticipated micro cam, and the lightest fully featured rock climbing harness (probably), to a range of socks made from recycled fishing nets, here's our pick of the products.
DMM Dragonfly microcam - £64
Perhaps the most talked-about new product at this year's show (or do we just know too many climbers?), these new micro cams have been generating quite a buzz (pun intended). When we got to handle them we could understand why. Coming in a range of six sizes, Dragonflies overlap with Dragons at the upper end, while at the opposite extreme the tiny size 1 (7.4-11mm) is, say DMM, the smallest certified climbing cam on the market.
With narrow head widths but relatively broad large-area lobes, super flexible stems to minimise walking, a really ergonomic thumb loop and trigger bar, and a double length 11mm sling, these brilliant little units look like some of the best engineered micro cams on the market. The UKC review team is already fighting over who'll get to road test them.
New trekking packs
Smart new rucksacks seemed to be a bit of a thing at this year's OutDoor show, so we've stretched the definition of 'Top 10' in order to give them all the space they deserve. Whether it's for innovation, quality or affordability, these big load carriers from Mammut, Osprey and Lowe Alpine particularly caught our attention.
Mammut Trion and Trea Spine £249 - £339
With robust weatherproof fabric and all the features you'd expect in a top end trekking and mountaineering pack, these men's (Trion) and women's (Trea) rucksacks tick a lot of boxes; but when you're lugging tons of gear over rough terrain it's the back system that really makes the difference. Supportive and comfy even with heavy loads (we trialled it on the stand with 20kg plus), it also permits a really free hip-and-shoulder movement thanks to the fact that the shoulder straps and hip belt pivot independently. So far, so to be expected, but the way these two elements of the harness system are tethered together also seems to make the load carrying particularly stable and well balanced. Even in an exhibition hall you can really feel it working, so the signs are good for it doing the business out on the hill too. With models from 35 - 75 litres capacity, this pack range certainly isn't a budget buy, but in terms of quality it looks the business.
Osprey Rook and Renn £120 - £130
Osprey packs tend to be at the premium end of the market, but with the new Rook (for men) and Renn (for women) you get Osprey quality at a more entry level price. These mid-sized backpacking sacks take some of the features you'd find on other models but present them in a simple, user friendly and affordable package that should appeal to first time hikers in particular. The mesh back system that hugs the torso to provide well-ventilated lumbar support will be familiar to Osprey fans, but the nifty size adjustment is all new, and looks to be intuitive enough for youth groups etc. It's rare to see a quality backpacking sack at this level of affordability, and it's this that for us really sets the Rook and Renn apart.
Lowe Alpine Altus 42L - £140
At trade shows you see a wide variety of innovations, many of which seem abstract and unecessary; but when the UKC/UKH team were presented with the Altus we couldn't help but nodding - here was a pack we really liked. The Altus is very much a go anywhere, do anything pack suitable for trekking, hillwalking in both summer and winter, ski touring/mountaineering, and climbing. Every feature seems logical, driven by the necessity of function or comfort (and if these aren't the most important aspects of a pack we don't know what are!). Available for men in 32, 42:47, and 52:57 litre sizing and 30, 40:45, and 50:55 for women.
Teko Econyl Yarn socks
Here's a nice environmental story. If you've ever spent time walking on a beach or climbing at a coastal crag, you will appreciate the huge problem that discarded fishing nets cause in our oceans. Teko have found a clever way to crush up used fishing nets into pellets which are then drawn out into fibres to make the yarn used in these socks. Blended with Merino wool, and with some clever knit patterns, they have managed to produce a sustainable, recycled product that also performs. Available now, the range has something for every sock wearer, from running through hill walking to mountaineering. It's easy to overlook everyday items like socks in favour of glossy tech, but spending money on good socks makes all the difference to a long day in the mountains - and if they can help make a difference to plastic pollution too, then all the better. Eco socks? Even a journey as huge as saving the planet has to start with a small step...
Outdoor Research Interstellar Bivvy - £315
Using a bivvy bag is often a last resort, and rarely a recipe for a comfortable night's sleep. Hooped bivvies solve some of the comfort issues, but typically weigh nearly as much as a decent lightweight tent. The Interstellar, one of a range of bivvies from OR, cuts weight to a minimum without sacrificing the major advantage of the hoop design, namely the headroom. With a quadruple zipper for free arm movement, you can sit entirely enclosed in the bag and still reach out to cook. Its mesh door should be particularly welcome on Scottish summer bivvies, while the Ascentshell waterproof fabric is so air permeable that you can scrunch the bag into its stuff sack without first having to roll the air out. Best of all you get a proper hooped head end which doubles as a hood/cowl if you sit up, and looks just the thing for rainy nights or midge-riddled still weather. The Interstellar will be available spring 2019, and our gear editor is already dreaming up trips to take with it. The only catch we can see is the high cost... but what price sleep?
Blue Ice Addax harness - £110
At only 140g, the Addax is claimed to be the lightest fully featured rock climbing harness on the market; but instead of sacrificing everything in pursuit of a headline weight figure, this model looks genuinely usable. With a (minimally) padded waist belt and four proper gear loops, it might be an attractive option for the most weight-conscious sport climbers. This is a niche bit of kit, for sure, but also an interesting example of ambitious product development, and perhaps something of a mission statement from the up and coming Chamonix brand. Coming to a Catwalk near you soon...?
New mountain packs
OK, we really have gone to town with rucksacks this year; blame the brands for doing such a good job. Of the many climbing packs on show, we thought Fjallraven and Mountain Equipment's particularly noteworthy.
Fjallraven Bergtagen 38 £240
Fjallraven might be better known in the UK for their hiking and general outdoor gear, but the Bergtagen 38 is a reminder of their more technical mountain credentials. A fully-featured, yet clean-lined alpine climbing pack in a very useful 38 litre size, it features a removable lid and hip belt, and wooden stays (!) that can be easily slipped out for minimalist use. This is one of a number of packs made from Fjallraven's new Bergshell fabric. Winner of the OutDoor Award 2018 in the category "Innovation Material" this waterproof and highly durable fabric has a 'flat ripstop' construction that is said to shed abrasion evenly over the whole surface for greater durability, while its particular blend of fibres also makes for a high tear strength. Better yet it's made from 100% recycled nylon. The Bergtagen may not be a budget option, but it looks like it should offer years of reliable service.
Mountain Equipment Ogre £120
When ME brought out the Tupilak, their first pack in many years, we were blown away by its quality and attention to detail (see our review here). The only significant drawback we could find was the equally significant price. With the new Ogre range this line of attack has been well and truly closed off. Taking many of the features we love about the Tupilak and trickling them down to a model that will retail for a bit more than half the price, the Ogre is still a refined technical mountain pack but at a more mass market budget. With its well-considered features, an uncluttered design and a tough well-built feel, the Ogre looks like a lot of pack for your money. Good news too is that it will come in a female version. From the Alps to Scottish winter, we can see this pack range doing very well.
Dolomite Veloce - £215
A versatile and lightweight mountain shoe/boot that promises to take you from the valley to the summit, the Veloce looks simultaneously light (under 300g per shoe) and comfy for walking, while also being stiff and supportive enough for snow, and nimble and grippy on the rock. Able to take a semi-step-in crampon, this could just be all the shoe you need for mixed terrain and non-glaciated alpine fun in summer. We also think it'd be a strong contender for UK scrambling and more challenging crag approaches. It's the high tech upper that really caught our eye, a woven construction that optimises durability, protection and breathability in the areas where each is most needed. The boss has already bagged the first review pair...
Edelrid Giga Jul - £60
Edelrid have fully committed to assisted braking devices on the back of research into accidents at German climbing walls; the result is a very competent device for sport and indoor use. They think about trad too though, so bear with us (their head of development, Daniel Gebel is a IFMGA Guide as well as a clever man). The Giga Jul solves the annoyance of trying to abseil with an assisted braking device by using a clever cam that flips back out of the way so that the whole thing can act like a normal, double rope device. It also works in guide mode and they assured us it is their best guide plate yet, being the easiest to work with when a climber is weighting the rope. It's a nifty idea, and makes the Giga Jul a real all-rounder.
Five Ten Aleon - price to be confirmed
It may not exactly be groundbreaking, but the quality of this high-end rock shoe from Five Ten definitely caught our eye. The upper makes use of Adidas Prime Knit, a proprietary knitted fabric with four-way stretch, which gives a sock-like close fit across the top of the foot and should help make the shoe easy to slip on and off. The seamless construction of the upper, meanwhile, promises to make it extra comfy... at least by the standards of a highly technical rock shoe! The stealth rubber sole has a highly aggressive downturned toe for maximum power and precision. Coming to the market in spring 2019, the Aleon looks perfect for steep limestone.
Beal Back Up Crevasse System - £252
Glacier travel can be unnerving at the best of times, so anything you can do to simplify it should help reduce the stress. If your partner falls into a crevasse and ends up needing mechanical assistance to get back out, setting up a complex pulley system, under pressure, doesn't sound like our idea of fun. Enter Beal's latest gizmo.
A pre-assembled and easily portable crevasse rescue system, it fits into two small bags which contain a 5mm 30m rescue line, a pulley and rope clamping devices. There's minimal complex rigging on your part: just place an anchor, clip yourself into the system, lower the line to the victim and start hauling... It looks a bit wacky, and it's probably more expensive than assembling your own setup from scratch, but it might just make a difference in a self-rescue scenario. Quirky oddity or welcome safety booster? We can't quite decide, but regular alpine climbers, mountaineers and ski tourers might want to take a look...